Sunday, January 31, 2010

Caps 3 - Lightning 2 - Streak Continues ... and Lot's Of Hockey News This Weekend to Muse About Too

Well this afternoon at Verizon Center, the Washington Capitals made it 10 in a row and came away with two points. The Caps closed out the month of January with a 13-2-0 record, their best month of the season, and their best month in a regular season ever. The Caps now have 80 points in 55 games; they are in first in the Eastern Conference, eight points and 3 games ahead of the second place New Jersey Devils. They are on pace for a 119 point season. What else is there to say really... some game highlights and low lights follow, as well as a few other hockey musings this last day of January.


+++ If there was a more exciting save by Jose Theodore recently than his reach back and sweep out of the puck after so and so hit the post at about the 9:30 mark of the first period, someone needs to point it out to me.

+++ Nicklas Backstrom is awesome this season. He is just so much more physical and stronger than he used to be. His hit on Wilson at ~16:30 of the first period was a great example of how much he is maturing both physically and as a hockey player. He is truly a first line NHL center on pretty much any team in the league's roster.

+++ Speaking of Backstrom, he opened the scoring for the Caps on a power play at 00:57 of the second period. Backie just did what comes naturally - he went to the net and banged the rebounding puck between Bolt's goaltender Mike Smith's pads into the net. It was a great goal with assists by Ovechkin and Fleischmann.

+++ The Caps second line of Semin - Fleischmann - Laich continues to look pretty good. On the Caps second goal of the game, Brooks Laich's 16th of the season, was a great example of how the line continues to gel. It was a goal that was set up by great puck movement; great puck movement that was facilitated by and capitalized on by the great puck handling skill and hands of these three complimentary pieces of hockey talent.

+++ Theodore's glove save at the 9:22 mark of the third period was key. It gave the Caps a chance to catch themselves and get back on to playing "their game" after the Lightning scored two goals in a short time span (2:42).

+++ The Caps first line of Ovechkin - Backstrom - Knuble was solid all game but they were exception during the final 8:00 minutes of the game. From Ovechkin's goal at 13: 36 to the great play along the boards in the corner at the Caps end of the ice at the ~16:00 mark, their play was almost perfection.

+++ Ovechkin, I could have probably just written that one word and left it be at that but Captain Ovie was +1 with 1 goal (the game winner) and 1 assist in 20:35 TOI. In addition to 6 shots, 1 hit, 1 giveaway and 1 takeaway, he also had 11 attempts blocked and 2 misses. Truth be told the Lightning coaching staff did an awesome job of juggling lines and defensemen and making sure that they had Ovie, Knuble and Backstrom properly covered all game.

+++ In Mike Green's absence, the rest of the blueliners stepped up and played good smart hockey. The Caps as a whole played disciplined hockey and only took two penalties today, none were taken by Caps defensemen. Both John Erskine and Shoane Morrisonn stepped up their games and Tyler Sloane came in played 16:30 TOI on 20 shifts including 00:59 shorthanded and did well. Neither Sloane nor Sha-Mo were on the ice for either of the Tampa Bay goals and even though both Erskine and Tom Poti were on the ice for both Tampa Bay tallies, they played solid games otherwise.

Low Lights:

--- The PK Unit got verklempt during the third period and that's what led to the Lightning's second goal. The unit on the ice just got out of position and broke down. Tampa Bay just has too many offensive weapons on the power play unit to let them move the puck around like that. I'm not sure who made a bigger impression looking at the replay, how good the TB powerplay was at moving the puck or how bad the Caps PK unit looked in the ~15-20 seconds prior to the goal.

--- Joe Beninati. I mean could the guy have mentioned the win streak more often during today's CSN broadcast? I mean, think about it, how many people watching the Washington Capitals on local cable on a Sunday Afternoon didn't know they were going for their 10th win in a row? Talk about tedious, 'nuff said.

Other Musings During The Game:

+++ Forget getting into the alleged Vinnie Lecavilier sweepstakes, the big name from Tampa Bay I wouldn't mind seeing in a Caps sweater is Martin St Louis. At least during today's first period St Louis was all over the place and he is the kind of guy that could make an even bigger impact on a team using Bruce Boudreau's system. Oh and St Louis' lift check on Knuble at ~7:30 of the second period was just an awesome play and it saved a goal. Finally look at his St. Louis' goal and his hustle back to make sure the icing gets called with 2.4 seconds left to play. Not that I think either Lecavilier or St Louis are going anywhere soon. I think Tampa Bay would be crazy to trade either of them. The 34 year old St. Louis is signed through the end of the 2011 season and with a Cap Hit of $5.25M and a salary of $4.0M is a bargain. Lecavalier signed through 2020 with a cap hit of $7.727M/year and a No Movement Clause, despite numerous and on-going trade rumors, is perhaps the most unmovable guy in the league.

+++ Speaking of Lecavalier and the faceoff with 2.4 seconds left to play. Let's talk about it. Let's say you're making, oh I don't know say about $10M to play hockey, you're the Captain of your team, you're having what for you is basically an off season, and you are behind in a 3-2 game and you get whistled out of the faceoff circle. What's the biggest bonehead move you can do, yeah I'd say it would be to loose it and end up not only being thrown out of the faceoff circle but getting 2:00 unsportsmanlike conduct penalty and basically ending the game since the face off moves back to your end of the ice. I haven't understood the whole dynamic going on between Lightning Coach Rick Tochett and his team Captain Vinnie Lecavalier but if I were Tochett, I'd do two things after that great show of leadership. 1) I'd bench Lecvalier for at least a game if not two. 2) I'd take his "C" and have him trade it for St. Louis' "A" making St. Louis the team Captain. I'd also give the team's third available "A" to either Stamkos or one of the other regular TOI leaders like Mike Lundin or Ryan Malone. He may not be tradable without his consent but two things need to be made clear to Vinnie - regardless of any individuals salary Hockey is a team sport, and everyone has to do their job, play the coach's system, and play smart. It's one thing to have a guy like Steve Downie get a penalty while stepping slightly over the edge playing gritty hockey and trying to agitate the other team. It's another thing entirely to loose your cool and rob your team's last chance to tie up a game entirely. I've always respected Lecavalier and St. Louis as two of the best players in the league, well at least one of them came to play today and did so with class, and it just wasn't the one wearing number 4.

+++ In the "lots of times I'd rather be lucky than good" department, the Bolts managed to put three really good scares into we Caps fans with thre of the loudest post hits of the season.

+++ Another two guys who are going to really good for the Lightning in coming seasons are Viktor Headman and Steve Stamkos. Yhese two guys look a lot more older and experienced than they are when they are out on the ice.

--- It sure seems to me that this season, referees do not call an even handed game in the third period. I've felt this a lot this season and not just when watching the Caps play with a lead. For example, rather than talking about the call against Backstrom at the 5:07 mark of the third period in this game, I'll point to the goaltender interference call against Matt Cooke in the third period of the Penguins - Red Wings game and say I didn't see that one either. At least it wasn't consistent with the way the game was called for the first forty minutes of the game. In the end the Backstrom call was in my opinion unwarranted and it changed the complexion of the game and it certainly wasn't consistent with how the rest of the game had been called. What's worse is that after the score was tied there were at least three times that if we were seeing a consistent two way game called, the Lightning should have found themselves shorthanded. To me that's just bad officiating, sorry gotta say it.

Musings about other news around the league:

1) The Penguins beat the Red Wings 2 -1 in a shootout. It really wasn't as close as that score would indicate; the truth is Red Wings goaltender Jimmy Howard almost stole one from the Crosby/Malkin led flightless birds. The 25 year old Howard stopped 46 of 47 today, including several robberies from the Penguins. Seriously though it pains me to admit this the Penguins looked very good and disrupted pretty much any offense the Red Wings were able to generate for most of the game. However, the Red Wings still managed to get a point out of a game that had "a playoff like atmosphere and tenor." In the end both Crosby and Malkin scored in the shootout to get the two points Pittsburgh deserved.
2) Well everyone wondered when Toronto GM Brian Burke would pull the trigger and what sort of deal he would do to remake the Maple Leafs next. Little did we suspect he'd do two major deals in one week and that he would do them before the Olympics break. Yesterday the Leafs did two big deals. First they sent Matt Stajan, Ian White, Nicklas Hagman, and Jamal Mayers to Calgary for Dion Phaneuf, Fredrick Sjostrom, and Keith Aulie. Then they sent Vesa Toskla and Jason Blake to Anaheim for Jean - Sebastien Giguere. That's moving 7 players out of the Maple Leafs organization and picking up 4 to replace them. It also means the Maple Leafs will now build their organization around Phil Kessel, Dion Phaneuf, Luke Schenn, and ... On the Blue Line, Toronto now has Dion Phaneuf (Cap Hit:$6.5M); Tomas Kaberle (Cap Hit:$4.25M); Mike Komisariek (Cap Hit:$4.5M), Luke Schenn (Cap Hit:$2.975M), Francois Beauchemin (Cap Hit:$3.8M) and Jeff Finger (Cap Hit:$3.5M). That's a total Cap Hit of ~$25.5M or ~45% of the team's available salary cap on six D-Men. Add Mike Van Ryn ($2.9M) and Garnet Exelby ($1.392M) and I'd guess the Maple Leafs are not yet done and a few more defensemen might get dealt for some more talent up front before the March 3rd trade deadline. All things considered, I think the Flames - Leafs trade makes sense for both teams. Stajan and Hagman should help the Flames up front and they weren't getting the value they needed out of Phaneuf since they picked up Jay Bouwmeester. On the other hand, I'm not so sure I think the Ducks - Maple Leafs deal is a good one for either team. If Giguere can find his "mojo" again in Toronto it might work for them, they sure weren't getting anything much of value out of either Vesla Toskala or Jason Blake for the combined $8M of salary cap they tied up. However, even though JS Giguere's numbers are clearly better than Toskla's and he has proven in the past a clear ability to lead a team as a number one goaltender, the way things have been going for him this season, you have to wonder ... "will he?" In order to be worth his $6.0M cap hit and his $7.0M salary next season, he hast to return to form AND he has to do some mentoring of Jonas "Monster" Gustavsson. Those are two pretty tall orders. However in the end these deals have actually freed up some more space and room for Burke both in the near and mid-term for the salary cap, and on the roster. What Brian Burke and Ron Wilson do with that will be fun to watch the rest of this season and next off-season for those of us who follow the NHL Eastern Conference closely.
3) Do the Maple Leafs' latest moves take them out of the Ilya Kovalchuk sweepstakes? Maybe/ maybe not. The Leafs still need a good foil for Phil Kessel... but they really don't have cap space unless they deal Kaberle and/or Jeff Finger. However, if I were Brian Burke the next guy I'm looking to dump off my roster is Colton Orr, plain and simple, there's no room under the salary cap for a traditional enforcer in today's NHL. Enforcers are clearly the highest salary cap cost guys if terms of TOI around these days. Also as is being proven with good team toughness and a solid power play, you don't need them.
4) Finally, I know this will sound like a "homer" kind of comment, and it probably is, but why do I look at the 3 game suspension to Mike Green and wonder why it just seems to me that the NHL Discipline Gods seem to really like to make examples of Caps' Young Stars?... Okay, I watched the replay and Green's elbow was a careless play but where's the consistency? I mean he's not a repeat offender and it sure didn't look like a hit with any intent to injure, and it's not like he himself hasn't been a victim of similar or worse hits this season... Okay I guess that's why I titled the blog Mark's Musings, even I think that last thought sounds "whiny"...

Next Up: The Bruins on Tuesday in Boston. Here's to hoping the commentary on Tuesday's CSN broadcast is about a hockey game that's actually in the process of being played and not about any sort of "history making streak." Seriously CSN guys - live in the moment and talk about the actual game in process. Hockey is exciting enough to watch, we don't need any editorial drama.


Saturday, January 30, 2010

Caps 4 - Panthers 1; Winning Streak Extended to Nine

It was a two point night again last night at Verizon Center for the Washington Capitals. The Florida Panthers were only able to stay with the Caps for 40 minutes and then in the third period, the Caps turned it on. Goalie Michal Neuvirth earned his 8th NHL victory across the ice from countryman Thomas Vokoun by stopping 35 of 36 shots on goal, a save percentage of 97.2%.

Lot's of solid play by many of the Caps. Hope Green isn't out for long because of that inadvertent knee on knee....

Way to go Caps...Next up the Tampa Bay on Sunday at Verizon but I'll be watching at home though I'll be at the games next Friday and Sunday at Verizon Center...can't wait. Keep it up guys - one game at a time, baby!!!


Thursday, January 28, 2010

Wow - Caps Win Back To Backs By A Combined Score of 12 - 3

Well as I note yesterday I was in Atlanta on business travel last night. It turned out, I couldn't catch last night's 5-1 victory over the Duck as the hotel I was in didn't get Versus and because the game was on Versus it was blacked out on GameCenter....crud. So I was reduced to checking the score periodically and reviewing the statistics, not the most exciting or interesting way to "watch"/follow Ice Hockey I assure you.

That said looking at those two items all you can say is ... wow! It's a great time to be a Caps fan.

Following last nights games, the Caps lead the Eastern Conference with 76 points and were 2 1/2 games ahead of the New Jersey Devils.

Also don't look now but so far this week, the Southeast Division teams are all playing well. Additionally Following tonight's games a lot of shuffling is getting ready to possibly happen in the Eastern Conference. The Ottawa Senators, like the Capitals, are on an eight game winning streak. In the Southeast Division, the Caps lead the second place Atlanta Thrashers by 20 points - that's 10 games. They lead the third place Florida Panthers by 21 points and the fourth place Tampa Bay Lightning by 22 points. However if the season ended today, there would be three Southeastern Division Teams in the playoffs as the current Conference standings look like this:

1st - Washington 53 games played; 76 points
2nd - New Jersey 52 games played; 70 points
3rd - Buffalo 52 games played; 69 points
4th - Pittsburgh 55 games played; 67 points
5th - Ottawa 55 games played; 64 points
6th - Atlanta 53 games played; 56 points
7th - Philadelphia 52 games played; 55 points
8th - Florida 53 games played; 55 points
9th - NY Rangers 54 games played; 55 points
10th - Montreal 55 games played; 55 points
11th - Boston 51 games played; 54 points
12th - Tampa Bay 52 games played; 54 points
13th - NY Islanders 54 games played; 54 points
14th - Toronto 54 games played; 44 points
15th - Carolina 53 games played; 43 points

That's right as of tonight the Capitals are in first (1st) place in the East, while the Thrashers are in sixth (6th) and the Panthers are in eighth (8th). Even more interesting is the current streaks, every team in the Southeastern Division has won the last two or more of their games and the Carolina Hurricanes are about to exit the conference cellar by virtue of winning their last three games. In their last 10 games, every team in the Southeast Division is 0.600 or better - when was the last time that happened? I honestly don't know, it may be a first.

In any case next up for the Capitals are the Florida Panthers tomorrow evening at Verizon Center. I will be watching from my sofa here in Bristow. It should be a good game as the Caps look to make it nine in a row while the FlaCats are looking for their third in a row. The two teams last met on January 13th in Sunrise, FL and the Caps won that one 5-4 in overtime. This is the final regular season meeting between the two teams and so far this season the Caps are 4-0 and have out scored the Panthers 23 - 11 (4-1, 7-4, 6-2 and 5-4 in OT ). In each of their games the Caps have scored 4 or more goals, an average of 4.6, against a team that has allowed an overall average of 2.91 goals against per game. Further over their last 10 games, the Caps are 9-1-0 have scored an average of 5.3 goals per game against a strong schedule while allowing their opponents to score an average of 2.6 goals. That's an average goal differential per game of +2.7 for the Caps. While the Panthers have won their last two games and are 6-2-2 in their last 10 games, during that stretch they've scored an average of 2.1 goals per game while allowing just 1.6. In fact the only team to score more than 3 goals against the Panthers during their month of January (their last 12 games) was the Capitals. The Panthers come into Verizon off a 2-1 win against the Canadiens in Florida on Tuesday, and they need the points more. However, as long as the Caps stay focused, and stick to their game plan, none of that will matter. The Caps should win the game.

Forecast: Caps 4 - Panthers 2; Winning goal: Backstrom


Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Atlanta Thrashers 2 - Anaheim Ducks 1

Last night I went and saw the Thrashers host the Ducks here in Atlanta's Phillips Arena as I am here on business. I went to the game with two colleagues from work, one a French Canadian from Montreal who grew up playing hockey and following "Le Habs", the other a gentleman from Baltimore who was attending his first hockey game.

It was interesting as Pierre and I would point out to each other the former Canadiens and former Capitals on the Ducks and Thrashers and Sam would comment on the game and ask about the rules, penalties, etc. It was also interesting to attend a hockey game that wasn't a sellout and see how the Tharashers Organization is working to sell their product and increase the fan base here in "Blueland." I saw a lot of things I hadn't seen in a while at Verizon Center and can say two things - the Thrashers are working hard at it; and based on what I saw work with the Caps at Verizon Center during "the rebuild" they are doing a lot of smart things.

Both the Thrashers and the Ducks consider themselves teams fighting for a playoff spot in their respective conferences. Both teams have a solid and, I feel, up and coming teams. The Thrashers have a fair talent base and watching them play, especially their PK and PP units, it's easy to understand how they started the season well. Zach Bogosian and Evander Kane both play beyond their young years. The Atlanta Russians/Europeans: Kovy, Afinaganov, Kubina, Antropov, Enstrom, Valabik, Salmela and Hedberg all are at worst solid hockey players and in the case of some, like Kovalchuk, possessors of superstar talent.

I got to see former Capital Steve Emminger take his 17th shot and score his 2nd goal of the season. I saw Colby Armstrong put one in from the paint while getting a gritty game, and I watched Maxim Afiniganov finish off a powerplay goal that culminated a power play unit's shift that was scary good on puck movement.

I also at a not so god for me but wonderfully tasty bar-b-cue beef brisket sandwich for dinner and had a much more enjoyable evening than I would have otherwise had working in my hotel room.

Tonight most of the folks who read this blog will be watching those same Anaheim Ducks play our favorite hockey team, the Washington Capitals in DC at Verizon Center. The Caps should win, last night here in Atlanta Jonas Hiller was in the net for the Ducks and he played well. Atlanta had a lot me shots and scoring chances than Anaheim during the first period and a half of the game, Hiller is how they stayed in the game. Conventional thinking says that means JS Giguire will be in the net tonight for the Ducks but really it won't matter either way. The Ducks should still fall to our beloved Caps.

Now I just have to figure out how I'm going to see the game tonight, probably online on GameCenter Live but maybe not...


Sunday, January 24, 2010

Caps 4 - Coyotes 2, A Two Point Night at Verizon Center

The Caps hosted the Phoenix Coyotes tonight at Verizon Center, I watched the game on Comcast Sportsnet as Tom had the tickets to our perches in Section 103 tonight. As expected, the Caps needed to play patient, disciplined hockey tonight to come away with a well deserved victory. It was a close game and though the Caps never trailed, the game wasn't put away until Alexander Ovechkin got the final insurance goal into the empty net at 19:54 of the third period to put the Caps up by two and the final score of 4 - 2.

The win over Phoenix was the finale to a "perfect" week for the Capitals who went 4-0-0 against a group of teams with who have a combined 111-77-17 record. In short this past week the Caps earned eight points against a set of quality opponents. If the season ended today Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and Phoenix would be in the playoffs. Also, though Detroit would be on the wrong side of the tie-breaker even though in points they are tied with the current Western Conference #8 Calgary Flames, though I don't think anyone who watched it would say the Caps beat an easy opponent when they faced the guys from "Hockeytown". Four games against quality opponents - Eight points. Not a bad body of work last week at all. How did it happen - solid team play, solid goaltending, and excellent special teams, that's how.
Solid Goaltending: During the past week the Caps got solid goaltending from Jose Theodore in the first three games: Philadelphia, Detroit and Pittsburgh. Theo stopped 30 of 33 against the Flyers and two (2) of the three (3) the Flyers got past him were when the Flyers had a man advantage and were moving the puck around well. Against Detroit, Theodore played what was arguably his best game ever as a Capital; he stopped 44 of 46 Red Wings shots on goal, and was clearly the best player wearing a Caps uniform on the ice on Tuesday night. In Pittsburgh on Thursday night, Theodore also had a solid overall night. Despite mishandling the puck and giving the flightless birds a gift for their first goal of the night, Theodore settled in and stopped 35 of the 38 shots the Penguins threw at him. Overall in those three games saw Theodore stop 109 of 117 shots for a Save Percentage of 0.932 and a GAA of 2.67. Last night twenty-one (21) year old Michal Neuvirth earned his sixth NHL win of the 2009 -2010 season and the eighth NHL victory of his young career by holding the Coyotes to just 2 goals while turning away 28 of 30 shots on goal - a Save Percentage of 0.933. So during these past four games the Capitals goaltenders have delivered an overall save percentage of 0.932 including coming up big when they were called upon to do so.
Excellent Special Teams Play: Over the past four games the Caps have scored six (6) power play goals. Six (6) in fourteen (14) opportunities. That's a 42.6% success rate with the man advantage, talk about making an opponent pay for taking liberties and making them pay for their mistakes. As good as the power play unit(s) have been these past four games, the penalty killers might have actually been better. Through these past four games the Caps found themselves short-handed 19 times but have only allowed their opponents to score twice, that's 17 for 19 or 89.5%. Detroit, Pittsburgh and Phoenix all failed to score a power play goal against the Capitals despite being given eleven (16) chances to do so. That's solid, heads up penalty killing.
Solid Team Play: Last week, the Caps have outscored their four opponents 18 - 10. Nine (9) different players scored those 18 goals for the Capitals: Mike Knuble (2), Brooks Laich (3) including a shortie against Philadelphia, Alexander Semin (2), Alexander Ovechkin (4) including a penalty shot against Philadelphia, Matt Bradley (1), Nicklas Backstrom (2), David Steckel (1), Eric Fher (2), and Tomas Fleischmann (1). That's team offense. For team defense and toughness it's a lot easier to talk about if you watched the games, but it's been there. All four lines and all three defensive pairings have been playing well. Perhaps the most telling indicator of team play is the way the TOI/game and the average time per shift numbers are looking, especially when you remove the special teams play and look at the 5 on 5 numbers. Clearly the coaching staff has a lot of confidence in everyone who's wearing a Capitals "sweater" on any given night. This is a deep, talented roster and, so far for the entire month of January, they are playing solid team hockey.

Quick "hits"/thoughts about last night's win against the Coyotes:

- The Coyotes didn't make it easy that's for sure. They were disciplined, played a steady game for a full sixty minutes and were "in the hunt" until Ovechkin iced it with his empty-net goal at 19:54 of the third period.

- One might ask how I can characterize a game where the Coyotes took eight (7) and the Caps took 5 non-coincidental minor penalties as a disciplined game. Heck I'm asking myself that as I write this, but it was, trust me, it was. First realize the Capitals didn't take a penalty until 8:56 of the second period. Then understand that two of the Caps non-coincidental minors the Capitals did take were strange. Alexander Semin's delay of game while fighting for the puck on the tail end of a penalty kill was just weird and wouldn't happen again in 99 more similar situations. Nicklas Backstrom's non-coincidental roughing call in the third period, watch the 2 minutes prior to that call and tell me it's not "questionable" in your mind. Not questionable because of what Backstrom did or didn't do, rather questionable because of the two non-calls against the Coyotes in the minute or so prior to Backstrom being sent to the box. The other three penalties against the Capitals were all good calls by the referees and sure the coaching staff will go over them with the offenders but in a tightly played game against a team like the Coyotes it would be hard to imagine a penalty free game; add the fact the referees included Bill McCreary and the likelihood gets even smaller. The Coyotes seven (7) non-coincidental penalties. I'm not in the habit of making excuses for opposing teams but five (5) of the seven (7) were for hooking, tripping, or holding - all things you do when you are trying to slow a fast skating, talented high-octane offense down. I'm not saying they were "good hockey" but they weren't total bonehead penalties for no reason. In fact the only one of those was the Ed Jovanovski roughing penalty at 12:57 of the third period when he threw a punch into the pile up in the crease, pretty much right in front of at least one of the referees; fortunately for the Coyotes at that point they killed off that penalty.

- Neuvirth looked good and confident in the net. That's just a good thing after his prior two outings. He was positionally sound, not easily shaken, and the list goes on.

- It's nice to see other defensemen besides Mike Green joining the rush. Tom Poti has been much more active these past four games. Last night the guy who looked good doing it and who doesn't usually join the rush was Shoane Morrisonn. Sha-Mo had an assist, was +1 and had a team high five hits, that's an active night for a normally "stay at home" defenseman.

- Take Mike Green's 10:08 and Alexander Ovechkin's 10:28 of power play time off the score sheet and they each had 16:43 and 12:28 of ice time last night. Other than Green and Ovechkin, only Tom Poti had over 20:00 (21:58) of time on ice and 5:11 of that was on the penalty kill. Average shift time and shifts per game, discounting those three items, was very evenly spread around - that's a good thing.

- I'll write more detailed musings on this subject sometime when I have time between now and the end of the Olympic break but in another sign "the traditional enforcer" is and should be dead I offer two things from this past week: the release of Georges Larouque by the Canadiens and the TOI numbers of those traditional enforcers when the the Caps played their teams this week: Dan Carcillo: 14 shifts, TOI 9:54; Eric Godard: 1 shift, TOI 1:12; and Paul Bissonnette: 7 shifts, TOI 4:46. Before anyone jumps me, I am not calling Carcillo a traditional enforcer and that is the root of my thoughts and current thinking.

- Final quick thought, last night Alexander Semin just had an awesome game. He was all over the place and was part of every Capitals successful scoring effort. He was solid all night, no matter what he was asked to do. It was a two point night for the Capitals as far as the standings go, it was a four point night for Semin - a goal, 3 assists, and +2. He was unselfish, played heads up hockey and did it with an energy level second to none. So I have to ask, where are all the naysayers now? I've been positive about Semin for years, I just hope he ends up staying a Washington Capital for a long time, like I have since I first saw him in a Capitals uniform.

Well next up the Caps travel to Uniondale, NY to take on the New York Islanders on Tuesday evening. The Isles have been a tough match up for the Caps this season. The Islanders have beaten the Caps once in regulation and taken the Caps to overtime and the shootout in their other two meetings this season before falling to them. Additionally, the boys from Long Island are 7-3-0 in their last 10 games, and are one of eight teams now fighting it out for the last three playoff spots in the Eastern Conference with 54 points, an overall record of 23-21-8 and are 14-9-2 at home so far this season. This will be another good one to watch, I expect Jose Theodore and Rick DiPietro to guard the nets and the Islanders to come out hungry and with confidence since they a) need the points and b) have proven to themselves they can play with the Caps. I expect the Caps to be rested and also come out ready for the battle since they had a day off today, will have a full practice tomorrow, and hopefully getting to the Island won't involve any travel anomalies. All that said, the Caps will need to continue to play disciplined solid team hockey if they expect to extend their winning streak to seven on Tuesday evening.


Saturday, January 23, 2010

The Caps Go For A "Perfect Week" Tonight At Verizon Center

I didn't post a recap of the Caps 6-3 Win On Thursday at "The Igloo" in Pittsburgh over the rival flightless birds, however unless for some bizarre reason this is the only place you get your NHL news you know it was a close, good game through 40 minutes, and though the Caps clearly won the last 20 minutes 3-0 the game was closer then the final score indicates. All that said I just want to say this to any Penguins fans who might be reading this while I can: "Our young guns were better than your young guns ..... our young guns were better than your young guns .... nah, nah, na, nah nahhhh."

That out of the way, as the Pens fans on their blogs indicate it was just a regular season, non-division game. One in which the Caps earned the same two points as any other game, the same two points the NHL doles out to add to their previously earned 68 points - meaning that at the end of the game the Caps had 70 regular season points, a record of 32-12-6. At the end of the game and going into tonight's game this Washington Capitals team is the first in history to have 70 points in 50 games. What's that mean? Well a look at the Eastern Conference Standings makes clear a couple of things: first: the Caps are indeed "taking it one game at a time" while still making sure they are driving toward the ultimate goal; second: right now the Caps are playing for what they should be playing for - to finish the regular season first in the conference; and third: the Caps have now clearly become one of the elite teams in the NHL. Why do I say these things, well in reverse order let me explain my musing.

The Caps are clearly "one of the teams to beat" in the NHL because their record over the last three seasons says they are. a) Last season they finished the season second in the Conference and it took the eventual Stanley Cup Winning Penguins 7 games to knock them out of the playoffs. (The pain we in Caps nation feel every time we have to say and/or write these types of things are precisely why for Caps fan Pittsburgh is our biggest rival. For Penguins fans right now it's because we have Ovechkin and they still think "he took Gonchar out." That's the current biggest grist for the rivalry, but the history is long and storied.) b) The Caps have an explosive offense and a style that is intense to watch and play; and very difficult to play against. However as they showed Thursday night during the third period, this season when they feel the need to they can play very disciplined hockey and the neutral zone trap with the best of them. c) The Caps have at least six players who have the talent to win a game all on their own: Alexander Ovechkin, Alexander Semin, Nicklas Backstrom, Mike Green, Jose Theodore, and Mike Knuble. There are another five or six who are also tough to "keep down" when they are "on" as well: Tomas Fleischmann, Tom Poti, Brooks Laich, Eric Fehr, Matt Bradley, Brendan Morrison and Semyon Varlamov. In short the Caps have so many weapons and ways to beat you, when the majority of them show up ready to play, the opposite team cannot just key on one or two things, shut them down and win. That's why I believe this team is built for the playoffs and long haul in the game that is the post-lockout NHL. It's also why everyone who plays the Caps right now, shows up with their A game. That has been the case during the first three games this week and that will be the case tonight when the Phoenix Coyotes come to DC. The Caps have managed to stay focused and take each of the prior five games one at a time and if they do that tonight and play their game they should be able to get their eighteenth home win of the season. However, the upstart surprising Coyotes won't make it easy for them.

Right now the Caps are focused and playing for what they should be playing for - to finish the regular season in first place in the Eastern Conference. Why is that what they should be playing for? Well, it's how you get the best seeding, and supposedly the best schedule, you can get for the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The Stanley Cup Playoffs, remember them, the hardest post season in professional sports. To win "Le Cup" a team must win 16 games, that usually means they must play at least 22 games after the regular season is over to win the NHL Championship. That's basically another quarter season. They have to beat each team they face four times and they usually play those best of seven series in a span of 14 or less days. Sixteen (16) to twenty-eight (28) games against the toughest opponents in your sport in a compressed time - that's just grueling. Any edge, however small you can get for that test is worth working for and getting. To make it even more of a reason, right now the Caps lead their division by 19 points and no one in the division has a game in hand on them so that's at least a 9 1/2 game lead. Because of that since the real goal is the Stanley Cup, the Caps need to keep the bar high so they play every game they'll have between now and June with the right drive and intensity. That means even though they are not division games, the game the Caps play against the other top teams in the league are the ones they measure themselves against. That's not to say they shouldn't don't and won't "get up" for division games - their record thus far against their own division is after all 10-2-0 so it's not like they are "slacking off" when they face other Southeast Division teams.

The current Caps have clearly joined the NHL elite. How can I say that - well look at the team, the organization and the fan base. Lot's is made of how DC isn't really a "hockey town", I respectfully submit that DC is as much a "hockey town" as any place else in the United States. First understand we need to admit that no place in the US will ever be a "hockey town" as much as any of the major cities in Canada. Sorry, Detroit. And just to make a point look at the Detroit Free Press on-line sports section today. No front page coverage at all of the Red Wings despite the fact they have a home game against the Los Angeles Kings tonight. My point is not to bash anybody rather that the NHL isn't the #1 followed sport in any US City. Here's the sports page for the on-line edition of the Pittsburgh paper, the Post-Gazzette which of the two large papers in town tends to cover the current Stanley Cup Champions the most - Penguins are front and center and for the Tribune, they have some "above the fold" type coverage of the Penguins as well. Of course both basically have the same story - that wouldn't happen if we were talking about the Steelers, I bet. And here in Washington, the art work is local woman's high school basketball, but the first story is "Reasons To Believe" which was all about the Caps this past week in general and the win over Pittsburgh in particular. The local fan base - say what you will, recall those dark days of "the rebuild" and empty seats at Verizon Center all you want, but as a season ticket holder. I'll attest Caps tickets are the hottest in town and every game is really a sellout. It's been that way for two and half years now and it shows no sign of letting up. Why, well they Caps are playing exciting hockey but the organization is also all class. Tickets are a little higher then they were in price and I expect we'll see a "normal increase" next season as well, but the Caps Organization works hard to make sure you get value for your sport entertainment dollar. From the first day I bought my plan in 2005 and then my full season tickets in 2006 through to today, I've always dealt with hospitable, professional folks who sure seem to sincerely care that we enjoy our experience and feel it's worth every penny we spend. Some of that is the location of Verizon Center in "the middle of it all" but a lot of it is the experience inside the arena when the Caps are playing as well. Ted Leonsis and the other members of Lincoln Holdings have clearly committed themselves to the long haul and having the best team as well as providing the best fan experience in not just the NHL but professional sports. Sorry to be so effusive but when the comparisons around town are so stark, I feel it's justified.

So what or more exactly who's next. It's the Phoenix Coyotes at Verizon Center at 7 PM. As noted above the Caps are currently in first place in the Eastern Conference with 70 points and a 32 - 12 - 6 overall record (17-3-3 at home). The Coyotes are in fourth place in the Western Conference with 63 points and a 29 - 17 - 5 overall record (10-9-3 on the road). Phoenix has been a surprise team this year and they've won their games with solid team defense. The Coyote's have several players who can indeed find the back of the net but their leading goals scorer right now is Scottie Upshall with 17 goals; their points leader is their Captain Shane Doan with 34 points - 14 goals & 20 assists. The Coyotes will work hard to keep the Caps off balance, bottled up, and off the scoreboard. Key to those effort will be veteran defenseman Ed Jovanovski and goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov. Both Jovanovski and Bryzgalov are having excellent seasons, getting through them as well as Doan, Upshall and the rest of the top two lines and defense pairings will be the key for the Capitals tonight.

For the Caps, patience and disciplined play are required to win, they need to stay out of the box, play with intensity but not out of control, and force the Coyotes to try and match up with all the Caps weapons. Since the Caps are the deeper team and now have 10 players with 10 or more goals to the Coyotes 4, as well as 3 with 20 or more to the Coyotes, well zero, as long as the Caps play a full sixty minutes of disciplined hockey and don't beat themselves, they should take two points away from this game. On paper, the only way other than beating themselves the Caps might loose is if Bryzgalov "steals one" for his team. That said, Bryzgalov is 2nd in the NHL this season in shutouts with 5 shutouts, an overall SV% of 0.919, and a GAA of 2.12 in 44 games played so that's not an unfathomable thought. Sorry guys, didn't mean to jinx anyone, just trying to honestly assess the competition. That said it's a classic match-up we Caps fans should be getting used too high-powered offense vs. sound team defense. So far when the Caps have played sound, disciplined hockey, vice getting impatient and playing "pond hockey", they've won those sorts of match-ups this season.

In any case it feels a lot better talking about the Coyotes in this sort of discussion than when they were the subject of discussions this summer. That is a tribute, IMHO, to the players and the Coyotes' coaching staff, especially head coach Dave Tippitt. The Coyotes are doing well this season and they are doing it with team play and a roster that has a salary cap hit of $41.6M (~73% of the maximum salary cap roster). That's all nice to see. However even though I usually like to root for the underdog, not tonight guys, I'll save that for the early rounds of the Western Conference Playoffs.

Prediction: Caps 3 - Coyotes 1.


Thursday, January 21, 2010

Caps 3 - Red Wings 2 Late Post Game Recap/Report

Pardon this late game recap of a well covered topic, I just can't resist recaping the Caps-Red Wings game though, it was one of the more interesting games I've been to in a long time, especially for a regular season game. I know a lot of the posts have gone over how slow the Caps came out of the game based on the numbers and for sure the Caps didn't actually get a shot to the net that Chris Osgood had to stop until well past the middle of the first period. However, it didn't seem like the Caps weren't skating hard during the period, it's just that the Red Wings had the Caps offense totally off balance from where I was sitting. In the end of course the Caps pulled it out. They did that because two things that were well played and worked for the Caps all night - those two things being Jose Theodore and the Capitals Penalty Killing Unit. Both of those things are what kept the game close while the Caps were being otherwise totally stymied by the Red Wings for the entire first period. I have been a general contrarien and supporter of Jose Theodore since he arrived here in DC so I couldn't be happier that he had a fantastic night. I also echoed Bruce Boudreau's thoughts apparently - The Capitals Coach said of Theodore after the game. “I’m watching him thinking ‘this must be how he looked when he won the Vezina and the Hart Trophy in Montreal that year because without him, it very well could’ve been 6-0 at the end of the first period’.”

Also as I''ve indicated it didn't seem like the Caps lacked any enthusiasm or effort during the first period, the Red Wings just "had their number" again the Coach summed it up far better than my words could. “It was like men versus boys,” Bruce Boudreau said afterward. “I don’t think we touched the puck. They came out with a vengeance, and I’m sitting there thinking this is what Stanley Cup champions that are desperate do. ... And it’s a bar that we have to get to. We were just fortunate our goalie was great in the first period.”

You couldn't have watched Jose Theodore and not have been impressed by his play on Tuesday night. He was truly "on another plain" - or as Ted Leonsis was quoted after the game "lights out". He was truly so good that, and I shouldn't say it because I'm superstitious, that if he could play 16 games like that in the playoffs he could single-handily win Lord Stanley's Cup. Of course that's precisely why winning the Stanley Cup is the hardest championship to attain in professional sports, it would take 16 games (48 periods or 960 minutes) like that if the Capitals allowed themselves to be outflanked like they were in the first period on Tuesday. I could babble on but I'll just once again cite someone else who summed it up better than I usually can. As Peerless said in his recap: "Theodore stopped 44 of 46 shots – too many of them quality chances – and gave the Caps a chance to win late, which they did when David Steckel scored the game-winning goal with 5:59 to play." Clearly Tuesday night, the Caps cobbled together a win from great goaltending and a couple of opportunistic plays that took advantage of a goalie at the other end who wasn’t as sharp as their own. Tuesday Theodore stole a win for his teammates, stopping 44 of the 46 Detroit shots he faced (including all ten power play shots), keeping the Caps in the game long enough for the offense to show up, and then skate off with a 3-2 win. He also picked up an assist (his first since February 5 of last year), and was about as easy a first star selection as one could imagine. Theo's play of late has been stellar, in his last four appearances, he's 4-0-0 with a 1.68 goals against average and .951 save percentage.

Other notes and musings from the game:

- A lot of commentary about how Alexander Oveckin had no shots on goal for just the third time in his career. Tariq El Bashir explained it best in his post game blog. The Nicklas Lidstrom and Brian Rafalski led Wings' defense did a good job of bottling up Ovie, that's the bad news; the good news doing so kept Lindstrom so busy he really did little else all night long.

- Say what you want about Tood Bertuzzi but he definitely knows how to "man up" and take responsibility for his actions good or bad. Bertuzzi's post game quote on his performance last night: "I can't give them that power play there. Stupid, stupid penalty by me. Just careless with my stick at the wrong time, then they come back and score right away. It was pretty deflating." Bertuzzi conceded. Along similar lines, Caps right wing Mike Knuble took two penalties tonight both in the offensive zone and one late in the game...

- I was hard on Caps defensemen Tom Poti while watching the game because his two mistakes were right in front of us Section 103'ers during the second period. However, after the game and looking at the statistics it's clear Mr. Poti played a solid game, in fact a very good one Tom. I doubt you heard my reaction when you inadvertently caused Theo to loose his stick during the second period but here's saying "Sorry man, chalk the emotion and passion up to the vowel at the end of my family name...I take it all back."

- Playoff hockey, actually both Sunday Afternoon, even though the Flyers are currently on the bubble in 9th, as are the Red Wings, both games sure seemed like playoff games in style, form and intensity. In games like that you've got to play a little different and the team noted it, “Obviously we are not going to hit the score sheet every night, and Detroit pretty much outplayed us for the entire game,” said David Steckel. “But, when you get in games like this your fourth line is vital whether it’s creating energy with a hit or scoring a timely goal, and we were fortunate enough to do both tonight. .... The third period was like a playoff game, it was tight and we need to know how to win games like this with everyone contributing not just our superstars, ... They're [Detroit] battling for a playoff spot right now. I thought we could have played better, but to their credit they prevented us from doing that.” In a playoff game it's often the play of the third and fourth line, as much or more, that drive the outcome. Tuesday night, that was the case and Steckel brought his A-Game, he scored a really nice goal from in the paint and plus two rating and six hits each were team highs. He's clearly working to show everyone he IS the Caps third-line center, and very capable of matching up with the NHL's other "name" pivots.

- You think Caps defenseman Mike Green wasn't up for the game and working to compare favorably to fellow 2008-2009 Norris Trophy Finalist Nicklas Lindstrom (a prior two time winner)? Green led the Caps in blocked shots with a whopping seven. He also extended his point streak to nine games and was on the ice for two goals for and only one against.

Other comments and notes worth mentioning relative to the Hockey Blogsphere yesterday:

+ I find the Blog "Alex Ovetjkin" is usually well worth the read and every once in a while it has a really poignant, great post. The recap and commentary on last night's game is one of those that I found really, really good and well worth the read, so rather than highlight it or otherwise quote it I figured I'd just post the link.

+ Perhaps the best bottom line for Tuesday Evening's game came from Detroit Red Wings Captain Nicklas Lidstrom. Referring to Jose Theodore: "I thought he saw a lot of the shots, but he made some great saves down there. He got two points for them tonight."

+ If you're wondering why there are so many Ovechkin Jersey's being worn around the DC Metro, or even by fans in other arenas just look at this statement by a true hockey guy and hockey hall of fame member. From Sunday's game with the Flyers where Sovetsky Sport interviewed former Flyer Captain and Hockey Hall of Fame Member Bobby Clarke:
SS: Would he have fit in with Philadelphia in the 70's? Clarke: "Easily! Ovechkin could have been the best player on any team at that time. SS: "Even better than you?" Clarke: "Much better! There's no way I could compare myself with him. Look how he skates, how he fights for the puck. Look at how much strength and drive he has. I'll say it again- he's a big bull. He just runs over people on the ice. It's really difficult to play against Ovechkin."

Well on Tuesday night when Backstrom scored I kiddingly chanted and joked to my seatmates "Our Swede is better than your Swedes, nah, nah, nah..." Tonight we Caps fans should be hoping and sending good vibes towards Pittsburgh so at the end of the night we'll be able to say: "Our young guns are better than your young guns, nah , nah, nah." So remember NO NEGATIVE WAVES MAN. ... And:


Monday, January 18, 2010

If Every Game Were Worth Three Points - Week 15

So if every game in the NHL were worth three points such that a win in regulation got you three points, an overtime or shootout win got you two, and an overtime or shootout loss got you one point the standings, the Conference Standings would look like the following.

The Eastern Conference standings would be:

The Western Conference standings would be:


Sunday, January 17, 2010

Caps 5 - Flyers 3; A Two Point Afternoon At Verizon Center

This afternoon's Caps-Flyers regular season finale at Verizon Center was an exciting game to watch for sure. The Caps played a full sixty minutes of hockey and it's a good thing they didn't let up because the Flyers came with their A game and played it for all sixty minutes as well.

Lot's of highlights and favorite things about this game but here's my top ten:

1) Brooks Laich had his best game in a couple of months this afternoon. He had two goals and an assist for three points. Laich's first goal of the game at even strength tied the game at 2-2, was a nice, gritty goal from a guy going hard to the net and enabled the Caps to go into the first intermission with the game tied 2-2. Then on the Caps second power play chance of the day, Laich fed the puck to Alexander Semin who had the net wide open and buried his 20th goal of the season at the 7:05 mark of the second period. Those two plays were great but the best was yet to come. At the 4:56 mark of the third period, with the Caps a man down because of a weak roughing call on Tyler Sloan, Laich got in between the Flyers power play team and ended up with a one on one breakaway, solid control of the puck and a step on the defender. Brooks then proceeded to "deke the pants off" Flyers' goaltender Ray Emery for his second goal of the day and 13th goal of the season - unassisted to put the Caps up by a score of 4 -2.

2) Jose Theodore was very, very, very good. He stopped 30 of 33 shots, a Save % of 0.909 and came up with the big ones when he had to do so in order to keep the Capitals in the game. Two of the three goals against him were on the power play and were great plays by the Flyers, and James Van Riemsdyk's even strength goal came off a rebound when both Jeff Schultz and Mike Green also misplayed and were in the wrong place, enabling Van Riemsdyk to get his 11th goal of the season.

3) Alexander Ovechkin - what can you say, sweet penalty shot goal, eh? Ovie had a goal on a even stregnth penalty shot in regulation. He got that goal after getting an assist on the first Caps goal of the game by Mike Knuble, which also was scored at even strength for another two point night by the great eight.

4) Alexander Semin played an excellent game. The only goals Semin was on the ice for today were scroed by the Capitals. He scored a goal on the power play, he got an assist on Brooks Laich's even strength tally and he was on the penalty kill when Laich scored his "shortie." In addition to his two points, Sasha also was +2 for the afternoon.

It was a day of goal milestones that were divisible by 10 for both Alex'es - #30 for Ovie and #20 for Semin.

5) Mike Green had a very good game as well. He led the Caps in ice time with 24:50 TOI, went +/- even, had 1 SOG, 2 hits, 2 takeaways and 2 blocked shots. Additionally he had 3 shot attempts blocked, one a blistering slap shot by Kimmo Timonem that #44 probably wishes he let Ray Emery handle. Most impressive was that in an afternoon when #52 found himself in the company of Chris Pronger and Timonem, "Game Over" was the best all around defenseman in the game.

6)Actually a "low light" but noteworthy nonetheless, horrible officiating - Referee Kelly Sutherland's roughing minor call on Shoane Morrisonn at the 6:08 mark of the third period was about as bogus and unnecessary call, and as large an example of inconsistent officiating, as they come. Sure you might and I emphasize might be able to make a case the prior roughing call on Tyler Sloan at the 3:36 mark was marginally warranted, but the call on Sha-Mo was the result of such incompetent and inconsistent officiating, it was laughable.

7) Actually another low light that is notable. I really hate the way Scott Hartnell plays the game and not just because he doesn't play for the Caps. I hate him because I feel he should be called about 20,000 times more than he is for goaltender interference. I'm probably wrong since he doesn't get a bunch of those call against him, but hey that's my view. Anyway, Hartnell plays on the edge all the time and he's a lot more offensive (no pun intended) to me as a "pest" who crosses the line into a "dirty" player a lot more often than Sean Avery or really anybody else in the league to me. I can't, actually won't, recap all the times i thought Hartnell should have been in the box, it'll just frustrate me ... again. I just hope that the next time Hartnell plays the way he played this afternoon, he gets flattened a few times by solid rock, legal hits.

8) John Carlson - this kid is going to be good. He had 19 shifts and 15:52 TOI and was +2 today. What's notable was he never looked like a "rookie" defenseman today - at least that I noticed.

9) Shoane Morrisonn had a solid afternoon. His "statline": +2, 1 minor penalty taken - a bogus call from my seat, 1 attempt blocked, 3 hits, 1 giveaway, 2 blocked shots.

10) Mike Knuble had another excellent game, he scored the first Caps goal of the day, crashing the net, was +1 and was a thorn in the Flyers collective sides every second of his 14:25 TOI.

Well that's my notables from today's game. Next up the Detroit Red Wings on Tuesday evening here at Verizon Center, I'll be Rockin' the Red in Section 103 with Rob - one of my college friends.


Don't Look Now ....

Don't Look Now .... But Guess Who Has The Best Record In the NHL East Through The Last 10 Games...

Through the last 10 games the Buffalo Sabres, who are 7-0-3 and have amassed 17 out of 20 possible points, have the best record in the Eastern Conference over the last 10 games. That may not be all that surprising, however what probably is a little surprising is that the New York Islanders who defeated the Sabres 3-2 in a shootout that went 8 rounds have the second best record in the East through the last 10 games with a record of 7-2-1, 15 out of a possible 20 points - 0.750 hockey. Interestingly, the last 10 games through the NHL schedule have essentially begun to "solidify" two intensifying races to the conclusion of the regular season and the playoffs. The first race is among a grouping of four teams: New Jersey (65 points in 46 games), Buffalo (64 points in 46 games), Washington (64 points in 47 games), and Pittsburgh (61 points in 50 games) competing for the top three seeds and spots in the conference. A second grouping of 9 teams: Boston (54 points in 47 games), Ottawa (52 points in 49 games), the New York Rangers (51 points in 48 games), the New York Islanders (50 points in 48 games), Montreal (50 points in 49 games), Philadelphia (49 points in 46 games), Atlanta (49 points in 47 games), Florida (48 points in 48 games), and Tampa Bay (46 points in 47 games); finds itself in a pretty tight race fighting for the final four playoff spots in the Conference.

All of the above along with the fact that out in the Western Conference depending on how you look at things at least 11 and as many as 14 of the 15 teams can be viewed as contending for the eight playoff spots are why last week, when talking to Tariq El Basher of the Washington Post, Washington Capitals General Manager stated: "There aren’t many teams that are out of it, so you might, in years past, have eight or 10 teams you could talk to about players. This year, it might be four or five. It might be slim pickings, so I’m concerned about that." However, the situation shouldn't be all that surprising to any of the NHL's GM, it's a sign that five seasons after the implementation of the salary cap, two inevitable results have occurred and taken hold: A) "parity" and B) the increased value of overall organizational strength/depth and a solid coaching staff. Making matters tougher for GMGM is the Caps have already done a deal with one of the the 4 0r 5 likely trade deadline sellers - Columbus, assuming they have already explored the various potential deals with Columbus, that leaves Toronto, Carolina, and Edmonton for them to be talking to right now. Looking at each of those three teams and their available "rentals" - according to, the Maple Leafs have 8 guys who will be UFA at the end of this season; the Hurricanes have 10 guys who will be UFA in July, and Oilers have 5 guys who will be UFA and Sheldon Souray who has occasionally been the center of some trade rumours from time to time this season.

When I look at those three teams and guesstimate the potential available players who might be the subject of discussion between GMGM and his counterparts here's what I come up with. Toronto - slim pickings as with Mike Green firmly in the fold and turning it up of late, I doubt the Caps will go for any sort of "Tomas Kaberle" sweepstakes, even if the Leafs are thinking about entertaining them. The Leafs have some interesting forwards coming available but given the Caps depth in that area, I don't see them giving anything up for Lee Stempniak, Alexei Ponikarovsky, or Rikard Wallin. Nor do I see any reason the Caps might want to pick up Mike Van Ryn, unless Brian Pothier remains troubled by injuries between now and closer to the deadline; though Garnet Exelby might be someone they'd want to pickup. Carolina has a couple guys of interest though working a deal with a "division rival" generally tends to cost more. Rental services of either Joe Corvo and/or Niclas Wallin has some chance at improving the Caps Blue Line Corps. Up in the list of forwards there are several folks who could help in the way Jason Chimera has though if the offense keeps up the way it has been then GMGM's focus can be pretty much on some blueline assistance. Edmonton brings the possibility of: Mike Comrie, Fernando Pisani, Sheldon Souray, Denis Grebeshkov, and Steve Staios. So as GMGM alludes it's not easy to see how any of these guys really help the Caps get all that much better even though they have the room under the Cap and an ample talent pipeline get any of them. As for the rumoured discussions with Atlanta about Ilya Kovalchuk given the resigning of Alexander Semin, it's hard to figure the Caos would be willing to give up the number and type of prospects Atlanta would likely want for a great guy, but one who would clearly be just a "rental".

Not that anybody asked, these are just my two cents on the subject. Next up the Flyers later today at Verizon. Mike will be using the tickets so I'll be following the game here on CSN HD in Bristow.


Saturday, January 16, 2010

Caps Playing 0.667 Hockey So Far During 2010

I missed last night's 6-1 victory by the Caps over the Toronto Maple Leafs, too bad but I was traveling for business and I had given my tickets to a colleague who is a hockey fan herself so it wasn't a waste. Sounds like I missed a good game though, eh. A 6-1 home ice victory is a good way to resume things after a topsy-turvy road trip last week, but before folks get too worried about the up and down of things last week, look at January as a whole so far and you see the Caps are 4-2-0 or playing 0.667 hockey on the year 2010.

That's good news since despite some injuries and being one of the team's in the league that everyone is now "getting up" to play against the Caps are still finding ways to win often. In fact the only two games in the last 10 you have to wonder about are the 7-4 loss to the Lightning on Tuesday in Tampa and to a lesser degree the 6-3 loss to the Hurricanes in Raleigh on Monday December 28th. All that said in their last 10 games, the Caps have gone 6-4-0 despite playing games against some of the best teams in the NHL right now: New Jersey, San Jose, Buffalo, and Los Angeles. In any case right now the Caps continue on pace for 110+ points this season.

Next week brings some great games: Caps - Flyers tomorrow; Caps - Red Wings, Tuesday; Caps - Pens, Thursday; and Caps - 'Yotes on next Saturday.....


Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Wow - That Was Painful, A No Point Night

Tampa Bay 7 - Capitals 4; let's say that again so it sinks in Tampa Bay 7 - Capitals 4. There were some good plays and nice goals but there were really only three things that were "good" to watch. 1) the play of Steve Stamkos, Martin St Louis and the Lightning's power play unit; 2) Matt Bradley stepping in and making sure Ovie didn't fight Steve Downie, and 3) Mike Green's two goals so now the snub by Team Canada looks even more marked as the defenseman in the league who is the leading goal scorer, #2 in assists, #1 in points, #7 in +/-, and #12 with an average TOI of 25:05 in the world's premier league isn't going to the Olympics.

Other then that there wasn't much to like in this game; there was a lot to watch but not a lot to like, especially if you are a Caps fan. Of course it is worth noting that in the last 7 days Tampa Bay has beaten both the Caps and the Conference leading New Jersey Devils and out scored them by a combined total of 11-6.

Well the good news is the Caps are back in action tomorrow night in Sunrise, FL against the Panthers and they'll have a chance to not really dwell on tonight's game of totally undisciplined pond hockey, shake off the loss and start the next winning streak.


Sunday, January 10, 2010

Halfway Through The Season and There's Time To Lookahead To This Year's Playoffs

The NHL season is 54% complete. The Eastern Conference Standings look like this:

The Western Conference Standings look like this:

Based on those current standings and recent trends it looks like it will take at least 89 points to make the playoffs in the Eastern Conference and at least 92 points to make the playoffs in the Western Conference. Given those cutoffs the following 6 Eastern Conference Teams appear to be long-shots to make the playoffs and could be "sellers" at the trade deadline: 10) New York Islanders; 11) Atlanta Thrashers; 12) Florida Panthers; 14) Toronto Maple Leafs; and 15) Carolina Hurricanes. The following 5 Western Conference Teams also appear long shots as well: 11) Minnesota Wild; 12) Anaheim Ducks; 13) St Louis Blues; 14) Columbus Blue Jackets and 15) Edmonton Oilers. While it's still mathematically possible for any of these 11 teams to make the playoffs, they basically have to start their playoff run now, and it's even harder to forecast and see them in the playoffs given the two week break for the Olympics in February. As such trying to look at them and their chances of winning the Stanley Cup is very difficult and my odds-making would basically group them all into a "field" right now any one of whom has odds of winning the cup of 125+ - 1.

Looking at the other 19 current contenders by Conference and from my perspective things shape up like as follows. From the Eastern Conference:

1) New Jersey Devils: Currently atop the conference with 63 points in 42 games and the best winning and points capture percentage in the NHL. 31-10-1 with 124 GF and 90 GA. In general consensus is that the Devils are the Beasts of the East and one of the 3 strongest teams in the NHL today. Based on their play to date and their +24 overall goal differential, as well as the disciplined play and the great season so many Devils including Martin Brodeur are having, assuming they stay as healthy as they are now or better, I'd put the Devils at 2-1 to make the finals and as such 3-1 to win the cup.

2) Buffalo Sabres: Currently in second for the Conference with 61 points and a 28-11-5 record and 10 points/5 games up on the Boston Bruins in the Northeast Division, the Sabres fortunes seem to rest squarely on the shoulders of goaltender Ryan Miller, however the Sabres current overall goal differential of +21 is also worth noting as is their 7-1-2 record in their last 10 games. The only thing keeping the odds of the Sabres winning their way to the Stanley Cup finals is who they've played against when they accrued their 11 losses and 5 overtime losses so far this season as it's likely the Sabres will need to get by either the Devils or the Capitals in one of the earlier playoff rounds to make it to the finals this season and they haven't matched up that well against either this year. Odds of making it to the finals 3-1; odds of winning the Cup 6-1.

3) Washington Capitals: Currently in third in the Conference with 60 points, a 27-11-6 record and up by 16 points/8 games on the Atlanta Thrashers in the Southeast Division. The Caps are in a similarly solid position relative to their path to the finals. To get to the finals the Caps will likely have to go through New Jersey or Pittsburgh or both. The Caps have played the Devils four times this season and only figured them out in their last meeting; they have not yet played Pittsburgh yet this season, but they should match-up at least as well against the Penguins as they did last season and that resulted in a 7 game playoff series. The Caps positive goal differential of +41 is second in the NHL only to Chicago. The odds of making it to the finals 2.5 - 1; odds of winning the Cup 5 - 1.

4) Pittsburgh Penguins: Currently in fourth place in the Conference and second in the Atlantic Division with 57 points, and a 28-17-1 record, the Penguins are six points ahead of 5th place Boston but the Bruins have two games in hand. The Penguins have a positive goal differential of +20 and at time have looked like they could repeat this season; at other times they've looked like they are likely to make an early exit from the Playoffs. Odds of making it to the finals 3.5-1; odds of repeating for the Cup 7-1.

5) Boston Bruins: Currently in fifth place in the Conference and second in the Northeast Division with 51 points and a 22-15-7 record. The Bruins have struggled this season and been quite streaky. They clearly could use some more firepower and have the fewest goals (114) for of any team Eastern Conference team in playoff contention and Tim Thomas has been good but not superhuman like last season so the Bruins 107 GA is solid but not as notable as the Devils (90) or the Sabres (102), finally their GFG/GAG differential of + 0.16 goals a game means they have been and will likely continue to play tight games the rest of the season, that can be both mentally and physically tiresome, additionally the Bruins haven't matched up well against the Devils, Caps or Penguins so far this season. Odds of making it to the finals 6-1; odds of winning the Stanley Cup 13 - 1.

6) New York Rangers: Currently in sixth place in the Conference and third place in the Atlantic Division with 50 points and a 22-17-6 record. What can you say about the Rangers this season? Mercurial? Streaky? Odds on making it to the finals 15-1; odds of winning the Stanley Cup 32-1.

7) Ottawa Senators: Currently 7th place in the Conference and third in the Northeast Division with 48 points and a record of 22-19-4. The Senators have been hot and cold all season, currently they are cold having lost their last three games. They will be a bubble team throughout the remainder of the season but they will probably make the playoffs. Odds on making it to the finals 25-1; odds of winning the Stanley Cup 50-1 because of their abysmal record on the road (6-11-1), they've played poorly against the teams they'll need to go through to get to the finals and and the fact whatever happens they won't have home ice advantage.

8) Montreal Canadiens: Currently 8th place in the Eastern Conference and fourth in the Northeast Division with 48 points and a record of 22-21-4; the Habs are 6-3-1 in their last 10 and looking like a possible 5th or 6th place team. Odds of making it to the Stanley Cup finals 15-1; odds of wining the Cup 30-1.

9) Philadelphia Flyers: Currently 9th in the Conference and fourth in the Atlantic Division with 47 points and a 22-19-3 record including going 7-3-1 in their last ten and being on a three game winning streak. While showing some life, as well as having made a coaching change to get a spark it's still a long road ahead for the Flyers who have a average GF/GA per game differential of +0.20 goals/game which is better then the three teams ahead of them in the standings. Odds of making it to the Stanley Cup finals 15-1; odds of winning the Stanley Cup 25-1.

From the Western Conference:

1) Chicago Blackhawks: Currently 1st in the NHL, 1st in the Western Conference and 1st in the Central Division with 66 points, a record of 31-10-4 and 8-1-1 in their last 10 games. The second highest scoring team in the league with 151 goals for and the second stingiest defensive team in the league with 99 goals against. The Blackhawks have been doing it all with a high Octane offense and team defense along with consistent, unspectacular, but solid goaltending by Cristobel Huet. Odds of making it to the Stanley Cup Finals: 2-1, Odds of wining the Cup: 3-1.

2)San Jose Sharks: Currently 2nd in the Conference and, 1st in the Pacific Division with 63 points and a 28-10-7 record. The Sharks are 8-2-0 in their last 10 games and are almost as tough on the road this season as they are at the Shark Tank. Could this year be the year for the team from Silicone Valley --- you never know. Odds of making it to the Stanley Cup finals: 2.5 - 1, Odds of winning the Cup 4-1.

3) Calgary Flames: Currently 3rd in the Western Conference and 1st in the Northwest Division with 57 points and a 26-14-5 record. The Flames have been tougher on the road then at home so far this season and they've been pretty tough at home; they've also been exceptionally strong against Eastern Conference teams. Odds of making it to the finals: 3-1; odds of winning Lord Stanley's Cup: 5-1.

4) Phoenix Coyotes: Currently 4th in the Conference and 2nd in the Pacific Division with 57 points and a 26-15-5 record. The Coyotes have been the surprise team of the season this year so far. The 'Yotes have played solid hockey on the road playing above 0.500 hockey and have been giant killers at home this season going 16-6-2 in Glendale. Odds of making it to the finals: 6-1; odds of winning the Cup: 10-1.

5) Vancouver Canucks: Currently 5th in the Western Conference and 2nd in the Northwest Division with 56 points, a 27-16-2 record, a GF-GA differential of +36 in 45 games played and a record of 7-1-2 in their last 10 games. The Canucks have added a higher octane offense to their traditional solid defense this season and appear determined to make a solid run to bring Lord Stanley's Cup in June to the same ice that will host Olympic Gold in February. Odds to make the finals: 4-1; odds of winning the Cup: 8-1.

6) Colorado Avalanche: Currently 6th in the West and 3rd in the Northwest Division with 56 points and a 25-15-6 record. The Avs are the other surprise team in the West and they've been riding the solid goaltending of Craig Andersen along with playing disciplined solid hockey to consistently sound results so far this season. However, there marginal GF-GA differential of +3 over 46 games means for them to go deep to the playoffs Andersen will have to be hot from now through June if they are to go all the way. Odds to make the finals 9-1; odds of winning the Cup 17-1.

7) Nashville Predators: Currently 7th in the West and 2nd in the Central Division with 55 points and a 26-16-3 record. The Preds continue to do more with less than pretty much any other team in the NHL on a regular basis. I think the Predators are a balanced team with just enough firepower and two very undervalued but very talented goaltenders such that if they have a hot goalie to ride, they could easily be the "Cinderella" team in the West during this seasons playoffs. Odds of making the finals 15-1; odds of winning the Stanley Cup 27-1.

8) Los Angeles Kings: Currently 8th in the Western Conference and 3rd in the Pacific Division with 53 points in 45 games played and a record of 25-17-3. LA is a solid young team being built from within and on their way to being a powerhouse getting closer to being one. Odds on making it to the finals 15-1; Odds on winning the Stanley Cup 30 - 1.

9) Detroit Red Wings: Currently in 9th in the Conference and 3rd in the Central Division. The Red Wings have been hit by injuries this season and are missing a few parts that departed following last season's Cup Finals. Detroit will continue to fight for a playoff spot with the 5 teams currently ahead of them but until they get healthy and in shape they won't be able to dominate as they have in the past. However, if they hit April in stride, playing their usual solid hockey, they'll once again be able to do some damage in the playoffs. They are perhaps the hardest team in the league right now to handicap/forecast. Odds of making it to the finals: 17-1; Odds of winning the Stanley Cup 32-1.

10) Dallas Stars: Currently in 10th in the Western Conference and 4th in the Pacific Division with 49 points and a 19-14-11 record. The Stars are a week of 0.500 hockey from dropping into the "field", they are also a week of 0.800 hockey from being in 6th or 7th place as well so that's why they aren't "in the field". Teams like the Stars with 11 OTL's are what have lots of folks talking about reexamining how three point games are handled, but i think I've expended enough bytes of cyberspace that my views are well known. Odds of making the finals: 30-1; odds of winning the Stanley Cup: 80-1.

These are just my own subjective thoughts and forecasts, the math and analysis behind these estimated odds range from considered thoughts to wild ass guesses. So anyway all I'm trying to do here is get a little thought and discussion going from a Caps fan perspective.

Next up Tampa Bay on Tuesday.


Just Past The Halfway Point and The Caps Have 60 Points ...

The Washington Capitals' 2009 -2010 NHL season is just a little more than half complete. In fact the Caps have completed 44 of 82 games so they have completed 53.65% of the season and they hatched the 60 point mark faster than any team in Capitals franchise history. Not too shabby, eh? Simple extrapolation would say the Caps are on pace to capture a total of 112 points, a more judicious analysis based on the strength of schedule and a look at the remaining 21 home and 17 away games of the season. The Caps have just 8 games remaining against Western Conference teams and five (5) of the eight (8) are at Verizon Center where so far this season the Caps are 14-3-3 (0.775). Assuming the Caps go 0.625 against the Western Conference teams for the remainder of the scheduled 8 games they would win 5 of the eight and get 10 more points. Of the 28 remaining games against Eastern Conference teams, seventeen(17) are at home in Verizon Center. In addition to being 0.775 to date at home, so far this season the Caps are 22-7-5 (0.721) overall against Eastern Conference foes; assuming for the remainder of the season the Caps go continue to go 0.720 against other Eastern Conference teams and they will capture at least 40 more points. Those 40 points combined with the 10 points captured against Western Conference teams along with the 60 points the Caps already have "in the bank" and the Caps will have a 110 point season. All of which seems entirely plausible and a conservative forecast, as long as the Capitals stay healthy.

Additionally so far this season, the Caps high-octane offense, including last evening's 8 - 1 win in Atlanta has scored a total of 162 goals so far this season as well. If you take a simple extrapolation forward, it is a very real possibility the Capitals will score over 300 goals this season. An accomplishment that has only been achieved by three other teams since the lockout: the 2005-2006 Red Wings (305 GF, 209 GA, 124 points); the 2005 -2006 Ottawa Senators (314 GF, 211 GA, 113 points); and the 2006 - 2007 Buffalo Sabres (308 GF, 242 GA, 113 points). The Caps alleged defensive "woes" and weaknesses you might ask how do they compare with these other teams who scored with the same proclivity the Caps have shown through 44 games? The Caps have yielded 121 goals against to date and are on track to yield 226 goals against for the season. In a goals against per game view the Caps are currently yielding an average of 2.75 goals per game compared to the 2.95 goals against per game of the 2006-2007 Sabres, 2.57 goals per game of the 2005 - 2006 Senators, and the 2.55 goals per game of the 2005 - 2006 Red Wings. However, keep in mind that despite yielding an average of 2.75 goals per game through 44 games; over the past 10 games the Caps have yielded an average of only 2.5 goals per game including two poor performance a 6-3 loss to Carolina and a 5 - 2 loss to San Jose.

What does all this mean? Well simple extrapolation is clearly in adequate to forecast future performance however, given the sample size (53% of the schedule for the year) and the fact that recent performance is better than the forecasted performance, as well as an analysis of the remaining 38 games indicates a probability that the Capitals performance in both points capture and strength of remaining schedule should improve, the use of simple extrapolation would be in this case both a Q&D (quick and dirty) way of forecasting future performance and doing so in a conservative fashion. Bottom line - based on these analyses it would seem:

1) The Caps are on track for 112+ points this season and could easily be the first team in the league to lock up their division championship this season.

2) The Caps could easily be the first team since the 2006 - 2007 Sabres to score more than 300 goals this season, and while they are doing that, they are also on or close to on track to having similar defensive capabilities and performance of any of the other teams who have also achieved the same level of goal production.

3) The media will continue to disparage the Caps defense and question the Caps team strength in such things like the weekly power rankings, however similar to the other three teams that have scored 300 more goals in a season since the lockout, the Caps will continue on track for 100+ points and may well capture over 115 points this season. As such the Caps will continue in the hunt for home ice advantage throughout the 2010 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

4) It's a great year to be a Caps fan...and that last one is basically a no brainer. Right now the Caps have: a) 11 players who have a fair chance at 20+ goal seasons; b) 4 players who could top 100 points; and c) are playing solid two way hockey backed by solid goaltending. It really doesn't get a whole lot better than this.

As I've mentioned before all of this must be accomplished one game at a time. One game at a time between now and April 11th and then one game at a time for the Stanley Cup playoffs. To get where they want to be the Caps need to stay focused and first deal with and dispense with the other "Beasts of The Easts" in the playoffs and then take it to whatever "Wizards of The West" that they would meet in the finals if they get that far. If they take it all one game at a time, stay focused and driven though to paraphrase the words of the immortal Herb Brooks "Now its their time." The journey to their goal continues next with the game on Tuesday night in Tampa the the Saint Pete Times Forum against the Lightning.


Thursday, January 7, 2010

Caps 5 - Senators 2; Now That's What I'm Talkin' 'Bout

It was a two point night tonight for the Caps at Verizon Center; well actually for Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom, it was a 3 point night, too. Jose Theodore stopped 26 of 28, a SV% of 0.929 and he really got no help at all on the two he let in, in fact, well let's just say he certainly didn't let in any softies tonight and be happy since overall the Caps outplayed the Senators fairly consistently all night. In fact were it not for a solid second period in goal by Pascal LeClaire for the Caps could have easily been ahead by several more goals at the second intermission than they were.

Great games by the three stars of the game: #3) Boyd Gordon (first goal of the season, 3 blocked shots, 1 takeaway) - welcome back); 2) John Erskine (5 hits, 5 blocked shots, +1); 1) Nicklas Backstrom. (2 goals, an assist, +2, 2 blocked shots and 53% in the face-off circle). Other notables: a) Captain Ovie) (1 goal, 2 assists, +4, 3 hits, 2 takeaways, and 1 blocked shot); b) Jose Theodore; c) Mike Green, an assist, +2; d) Brian Pothier, e) David Steckel; and f) Tomas Fleischmann (Flash was 12 of 15 in the faceoff circle). In fact nobody in red had a bad night.

The Caps are getting back on track for a 110+ point season...

Next up Atlanta in Atlanta on Saturday....


Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Caps 4 - Canadiens 2; A Two Point Night

Well that was a fun one to watch. Nice job by Michael Neuvirth staying alert and not giving up any softies especially in the first period when the Canadeans only had three shots but two were good ones that required a focused goalie staying alert. Neuvirth finished the night with a solid W having stopped 24 of 26 shots on goal for a SV% of 0.923. Nice job by Captain Ovie and Mike Green playing solid games - Ovie was especially responsible playing great two way hockey and led the team in hits with 6; Green had an assist and was +2 on the night. Eric Fehr scored the second Caps goal of the night and is now goal and was . Of course good game by the third star of the game Tom Poti and super game by the second star of the game Alexander Semin who had two goals and the first star of the game Tomas Fleischmann who had a goal, two assists, centered his line and was 67% in the face off circle winning 6 of his 9 draws.

Of course the best thing about tonight was it was a two point night and the Caps arrested their slide at three losses.

Next up Ottawa on Thursday at Verizon Center...


Sorry for the gaps in posts

Life has just nbeen very hectic and I've had little/no time to muse or blog. I haven't missed a game ye but that's coming as I have a lot going on work wise this month...